On my utter failure in seeing King Crimson in 2003...

Posted by jwsadmin on May 17, 2018

I'd learned of the band in college here in the states, starting around 1989, having been a prog fan of Yes and the like since '87 (but really since childhood my dad played those albums). Knew the various members of Crims because of the other projects they'd done (John Wetton's Asia, Lake's ELP, Bill in Yes and his solo work with Allan Holdsworth and Jeff Beck, and Adrian just had a radio and MTV hit with 'O Daddy', and Tony from, well, everything but primarily the ABWH tour more than Peter Gabriel actually). Started with the typical illegal mix tape from a friend, and then being a general fan of live albums at the time, picked up the tape of USA in a store. Eventually I had all the old albums except Earthbound on tape (the "definitive masters" series) and the Discipline trilogy on CD (the first masters).

Really got into the double-trio when I first found VROOOM in a Tower Records, but coincidences being what they were, I simply couldn't make any of the US dates in the DC area over those years. Followed the ProjeKcts idea and Robert's diaries, but again, couldn't see the P2 show (I suppose at the time i was still more of a fan of Tony Levin; my respect and admiration for Trey Gunn came later). Missed 2001's tour *again* because of a conflict.

Finally, The Birchmere, 2003, the tour opener. I had my tickets for me and a friend and his date, there was *one* almost conflict (I was going to drive to Pittsburgh (9 hours) for work the next morning), but I'd still get there to see King Crimson!

And...King Crimson couldn't play. Adrian had caught the flu and was, in Robert's terms, "absolutely wretched". So a very generous Robert, Pat, and Trey offered to perform a ProjeKct Three gig, at a discount price (a shorter gig, plus a Q&A if the audience was generous in return). I called my friend who decided to not make the long and painful-in-traffic drive from Maryland (he's more of a Belew fan than a general fan of the band so I understood) and I waited through the line for the ticket exchange. Yes, by then I'd heard enough of the ProjeKcts and followed the diary to accept that P3 is not really King Crimson as such.

The band played through some improvisations around the backing tracks and instrumentals of much of Power to Believe, a fascinating exercise - I was unfamiliar with almost all of it as I hadn't had been listening to "Level Five" that much in isolation. So I came away from a fascinating night of "studying" Trey and Pat and how they approach things without Tony and Bill, and my first in person Soundscape that would get me totally hooked forever of that side of Robert's playing, plus an interesting Q&A. (The back of my head is in almost dead center in the Collector's Club album cover.) The next day on the long drive to Pittsburgh I stopped by the first Borders on the route that was open and picked up Power and Ladies of the Road, both released the same day, and they became my listening for the rest of the trip.

I didn't personally talk with the band members at the time other than one of my questions ("would there be a P3 release that was a straight concert instead of a mash-up with no breathing space the way Masque was assembled?", which received a rather sardonic reply from Robert, but there we are. :) ), but many years later (early 2010s) I did give personal thanks to Pat (at a Stick Men/Belew Trio Perfect Pair show) and Trey (playing with Eddie Jobson at the same venue a different year) for taking the time and the risk to play that show the way they did. Pat did express that it was very a difficult show - he has a different collection of "tools" in his kit when he knows he is improvising vs the programming required for what we now know was the more structured 2003 set list, and had few of those to draw from.

In all, a fascinating gig, and I am grateful to be able to re-experience it in a way with the Collector's Club release.

As for seeing King Crimson? Well, here my frustrations grew over time, as they did not come to DC in 2008, nor did the new line-up(s) from 2014 onward come to DC for a long time as well...but finally, I experienced the King at Lisner in 2017 as a VIP and am content.

The Birchmere is a unique kind of place. More set up like a jazz club than a rock venue (and often gets folk acts - Fairport Convention often played there until touring the States became financially nonviable). Always seated, unless the band chooses to play out in the 'grandstands' waiting area. Has a relaxed entrance policy: when you arrive you get a seating number ticket and when they have people enter the main hall, you go in by that number, so there's no big long line you wait in. You get the number and can relax for an hour, then enter the main hall and get your seats at tables, get dinner, all before the show starts...and it is an early show, usually around 7:30 start time (P3 started later because it took the box office time to get through everybody's ticket swaps and sales).

Robert in his diary later suggested that The Birchmere would have been a better place for P2 and the 9:30 Club (where P2 played) a better place for Crim. I'd agree. Marillion played it in 1997, and Steve Hogarth found it 'ate' the energy a little with everybody seated in the dark like that. When the 'Trios' tour came in '05, H decided that even though it was an acoustic gig, they played in the grandstands so he could have that up-close SRO type of energy that he feeds off of.

Unfortunately, my 'ticket collection' got buried in a box when I moved and so I don't have easy access to it for a photo.


blog comments powered by Disqus